A conservative assemblyman gets in his right jabs


SACRAMENTO — Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly was thundering on the chamber floor against a proposal to make drivers stay 3 feet from cyclists, a regulation he said would chip away at Californians’ liberty. As his voice rose, a Democratic colleague stepped in.

“I’m tired of you hollering on the floor!” shouted Assemblyman Warren Furutani of Gardena, who urged Donnelly to “use his inside voice.” The interruption was met with scattered applause.

That was Monday, the first day of a marathon week in the Capitol. There would be more hollering to come from the fiercely conservative lawmaker from the mountains of San Bernardino County.

With little chance of affecting policy in a Legislature run by Democrats, Donnelly has made his Assembly desk a soapbox, testing fellow lawmakers’ patience with scorched-earth rhetoric on his favorite subjects.

Legislators want to “kneel and worship the environment,” he says. A Sacramento newspaper is “one of the most Communist papers on the face of the earth.” Cap-and-trade programs intended to reduce pollution will allow liberal financier George Soros to “play poker with our jobs” by gaming the market.

One day, another Republican assemblyman swiped Donnelly’s microphone as a joke (he gave it back).

Donnelly is often the first to speak in opposition to legislation, and he leaped at the chance to fight a bid to ban unloaded long guns in public, calling it “blatantly unconstitutional.” He had been apprehended at Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport in January for trying to take a loaded handgun through security.

He said he forgot to take the firearm out of his briefcase before the flight. He was later fined and given three years’ probation.

Donnelly’s rhetoric puts him in perpetual conflict with Democrats, and on Wednesday, Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) pulled him aside for a chat. Pérez wouldn’t characterize the conversation; Donnelly said he was just reminded to stay on topic.

The Democrats felt Donnelly was bogging down the proceedings in the Legislature’s busiest week. Of roughly 100 bills considered each day, Donnelly spoke on about 20, nearly twice as many as his closest competitor, Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) said — a lawmaker he would not name.

“I don’t think he has a strategy other than to attract attention to himself,” said Calderon, who often complains that Donnelly strays off topic. Donnelly recently griped about immigrant gangs, for example, during a debate on the use of dogs to hunt some wildlife.

Donnelly said his aim is to bring attention to bad laws, using “a 15-second sound bite” to rally public opinion. His constituents are angry, the lawmaker said, so he is too.

“He’s speaking with the passion of belief,” said Jon Fleischman, who runs the conservative Flash Report political blog, “and that’s an admirable quality.”

Donnelly railed last week against encouraging the state to use alternative-fuel vehicles. Too expensive, he said. Legislators are just obsessed with global warming, he added, “and the science on global warming is not decided.”

Ramping it up, he vowed to take his opposition all the way to the grave.

“I don’t want it written on my gravestone that I had my hands on the creation of yet another government program,” he bellowed. “I would like to have it written that I stood up in defense of liberty. That I stood up in defense of freedom.”

Such proclamations have become grist for the Capitol Twittersphere.

Bill Wong, a Democratic strategist, tweeted Monday that he thought about suggesting the audience chug a drink whenever Donnelly speaks, “but people would certainly die from alcohol poisoning.”

Times staff writer Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report.